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7 January 2021
Iron Age man first known case of tuberculosis in Britain

Archaeological excavations at Tarrant Hinton, Dorset, between 1967 and 1985 uncovered a variety of evidence for settlement between the Iron Age and the Roman period. Possibly the most significant discovery was the skeleton of an Iron Age man whose spine displayed signs of tuberculosis (TB). The man died between 400 and 230 BCE - the earliest case of TB found in Britain.
     In a new study, chemical analysis of the man's bones and teeth show he arrived in Dorset as a child around age eight from an area of carboniferous limestone outside Britain - possibly southern or western Ireland, the Atlantic coast of southwest France, or the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain.
     Strontium isotopes show he was living on the southern British chalklands between the ages of eight to fourteen. Carbon and nitrogen isotopes indicate the man ate a mixed diet consisting of plants grown on chalkland, and got his protein from cattle and sheep - a less varied diet than other Iron Age people as there was no evidence of fish or pig.
     James Webb, Acting Museum Director, says the man lived in a small farming settlement, was between 30 and 40 years old when he died, and must have been in considerable pain, suggesting his community must have cared for him.
     Dr Simon Mays, Human Skeletal Biologist for Historic England says DNA evidence confirms the man contracted the disease from another person rather than from infected meat or milk, and says "finds of diseased skeletons in Continental Europe tell us that tuberculosis was present there for thousands of years before our Tarrant Hinton man was born."

Edited from University of Southampton (6 November 2020)

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